Kansas Wesleyan women’s coach Ryan Showman was certain his team would face a tough, grind-it-out battle against Tabor in their game Monday night.
Tabor entered the Kansas Conference duel at Mabee Arena leading NAIA Division II in scoring defense, allowing just 53 points per game. The Bluejays limited KWU to 53 points in their first meeting November 20 in Hillsboro (a 54-53 loss).
“I thought Tabor did a great job through three quarters of keeping it where they wanted to,” Showman said. “I just knew at some point we had a run in us and it came at the right time in the fourth (quarter).”
Trailing 34-32 entering the final 10 minutes the No. 24 Coyotes outscored Tabor 17-4 the first 8½ minutes and pulled away for a hard-fought 52-43 victory.
Wesleyan improved to a KCAC-best 12-2 record and 16-4 overall with its 12th consecutive conference victory and 12th win in the last 13 games. Sterling (12-3) remained half a game back by defeating Bethel 66-61 Monday in North Newton.
KWU prevailed thanks to some stellar defense of its own, limiting the Bluejays to 26.8 percent shooting (17 of 54), including 5 of 24 from beyond the arc. The Coyotes also utilized a patient and methodical offensive approach down the stretch that paid dividends.
“I was so proud of them defensively,” Showman said. “(Tabor) held us to what they usually hold everybody to on average. If we weren’t going to score the way we usually score we were going to have to hold them and get stops.”
Kelcey Hinz led KWU with 16 points, eight rebounds, six blocks and three assists. Amanda Hill added 13 points and six rebounds and Courtney Heinen had 12 points and six rebounds as the Coyotes shot 37.7 percent (20 of 53) that included 1 of 8 from long range.
As has been the case most of the season KWU dominated inside, outscoring the Bluejays 36-20 in the paint.
“We started off shooting kind of slow, but we knew if we kept our defense there and we kept grinding on defense that our offense would come,” said Hill, scored seven in the fourth quarter. “It came, but it waited till the fourth quarter.”
Hill scored the first basket of the last quarter, sparking a 6-0 run that made it 38-34. After a Tabor free throw the Coyotes scored 11 of the next 13 points for a 49-38 lead with 1:39 remaining. Hill’s 3-pointer with 3:28 left was pivotal and made it 47-38.
“It was huge,” Showman said of Hill’s shot. “Up to that point we were in the four- to six-point lead and just something to drop would have been big and her 3-pointer pushed it up to (nine). In a game like this you feel really good with a nine- to 10-point lead.”
KWU outscored Tabor 20-9 in the final quarter, the Coyotes making 7 of 13 shots and the Bluejays 3 of 12. KWU shot 48 percent the second half (13 of 27) and Tabor 23.3 percent (7 of 30).
The Coyotes’ offensive success began when they slowed the pace.
“We like to play fast, we tried to speed them up, but we knew we’d have to slow down and have some patience and execute so we could get the great shot,” Hill said.
“(Patience) is not necessarily our strength, we want to go, go go,” Showman said. “We’re also mature enough and we have a veteran experienced team to where if we need to do that, they understand.”
Tabor (10-9, 9-6 KCAC) led 17-10 after one quarter and extended the lead to 24-12 with 5:47 left before halftime. The Coyotes finally gained some traction, scored the last eight points of the quarter and trailed 24-20 at the break after going just 7 of 26 from the field (26.9 percent) the first 20 minutes.
“We were getting the shots we wanted, we just weren’t making them,” Showman said. “Credit Tabor a lot for that, they took us out of some of our stuff and we forced some bad shots. But we have some good offensive players and I knew we were going to keep with it and the shots would fall.”
“We knew we didn’t start off playing good, but as veterans we knew we could play better, we knew what to do,” Hill said. “We were like ‘hey, let’s pull our heads out, let’s get going, let’s start something.’ ”
Kylie Burns led Tabor with nine points.
The Coyotes play the second of three games this week on Thursday, when Friends comes to Mabee Arena for a 6 p.m. contest. Game three is against rival Bethany on Saturday in Lindsborg, starting at 5 p.m. in Hahn Gymnasium.
Friends (10-11, 7-8 KCAC) lost to McPherson 70-69 Monday in McPherson and has lost three in a row.